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Arse is not as it seems

Acronyms are little more than a pain in the backside, says David Finch.

We're playing the abbreviations and acronyms game, my line manager, Jane, and I. We do it once a week. "Tuesday - you need to get DPSST in the diary." She pronounces the initials in a sinisterly fashion. The innocent reality is district provision school support team.

It makes you think how dominated by acronyms we are in education. There are the local sort, each peculiar to its own authority: DIF, sounds mechanical but stands for district inclusion forum. National acronyms are a richer seam: ALF has a friendly ring - activity led funding, as has HAZ - health action zone.

Some live on after they have been superseded. Who wouldn't want to keep inviting GEST into their school? Grants for Education and Support seems more generous than its bureaucratic successor, Standards Fund. SF has never really caught on. GRIST is another much-lamented loss for union public speakers - grant related in-service training contained both the toiling teaching profession and the heartless employer, screwing the last ounce of goodwill out of the teachers.

You could try looking at your neighbour's notes - sneaky but effective in covering your tracks. Asking a question using the acronym is for the audacious. And if all else fails, why not try: "Remind me what that stands for." But even that can't help you when no one else in the group is certain. How about looking in a database or perhaps on one of the lists some authorities issue? These confuse as much as they inform.

Remember that information in print becomes sacrosanct, which means outmoded or "joke" entries remain on record. Along with the methods of teaching practised on pupils in the 1960s, such as look-and-say and whole word, was the unofficial CAS - clout and shout.

Whether you see them as shorthand, or designed to exclude the outsider, we're stuck with them. In the spirit of making the best of the situation, I leave you with two of my own: ADTH - acronyms do they help? And ARSE - acronyms rarely save effort.

David Finch is a former teacher who recently started work as a monitoring officer for Kent County Council.

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